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What is the most popular side dish at Thanksgiving dinner?

Thanksgiving dinner is a beloved tradition for many American families. The centerpiece of the meal is usually the turkey, but the side dishes play an equally important role in this feast. There are certain side dishes that are closely associated with Thanksgiving and are present on most tables during this holiday. But which side reigns supreme in popularity across the country? Let’s take a closer look at the contenders.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes have long been a staple side dish at Thanksgiving. Their smooth, creamy texture pairs perfectly with turkey, gravy, and stuffing. While mashed potatoes are enjoyed year-round, they hold a special place at the Thanksgiving table.

According to a national survey conducted by YouGov in 2021, mashed potatoes were ranked as the most popular Thanksgiving side dish, preferred by 27% of respondents. Their popularity is widespread across the U.S., though some regional differences exist. They are a bit less popular in the West, where 21% named them as their favorite side dish.

There are endless ways to prepare mashed potatoes, from using milk and butter to incorporating sour cream, cream cheese, or garlic. At Thanksgiving, many opt for classic homestyle mashed potatoes made with russet potatoes, milk, and butter. Their nostalgic flavor and creamy comfort make them a perennial favorite.

Why Are Mashed Potatoes So Popular?

There are several reasons why mashed potatoes have maintained their top status on the Thanksgiving table over the years:

  • Familiarity and tradition – Mashed potatoes have always been served at Thanksgiving. Their recurrence solidifies their perception as a classic and expected part of the meal.
  • Crowd-pleasing taste – Smooth, creamy mashed potatoes appeal to almost everyone’s palate, from picky kids to traditionalist grandparents.
  • Easy preparation – Mashed potatoes are simple to make in large quantities. Just boil, drain, mash, season, and serve.
  • Pair well with other dishes – The mild flavor and creamy texture complement and balance out the other strong, robust flavors at Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Comfort food factor – Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, invoking feelings of nostalgia and warmth. They provide a sense of tradition and homeyness.

Given all these factors, it’s easy to see why mashed potatoes have become so beloved at Thanksgiving and claimed the top spot in popularity year after year.


Stuffing, also known as dressing in some regions, is another quintessential Thanksgiving side dish. It’s commonly prepared inside the turkey cavity during roasting. Classic stuffing combines bread cubes with onion, celery, herbs, broth, eggs, and seasonings.

According to the YouGov survey, stuffing/dressing was ranked as the second most popular Thanksgiving side dish, with 22% naming it as their favorite. Its popularity was highest in the Northeast, where it was the number one side at 28%.

There are certain states, like Alabama and South Carolina, where stuffing enjoys an especially high popularity compared to other areas. Some households opt for oyster stuffing as a unique regional specialty.

The Appeal of Stuffing

What gives stuffing such widespread appeal at Thanksgiving dinner tables?

  • It’s highly customizable – Cooks can add their own creative mix of ingredients like sausage, cranberries, pecans or apples.
  • It soaks up the turkey flavors – When cooked inside the bird, the stuffing absorbs all the delicious turkey juices and aromas.
  • It complements turkey – The mixture of bread, herbs and vegetables balances out the meaty flavor of turkey.
  • It satisfies carb cravings – Bread-based stuffing gives a carb boost and satisfies cravings on the big feast day.
  • It offers texture contrast – The soft but slightly crunchy texture adds contrast against creamy mashed potatoes and tender turkey.

For many, stuffing is the essential recipe that truly ties the whole Thanksgiving meal together. Its savory aroma and ability to pair perfectly with turkey have secured its status as a cornerstone side dish.

Green Bean Casserole

This creamy baked casserole of green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and fried onions has graced Thanksgiving spreads for decades. Though not as universally popular as mashed potatoes or stuffing, it still lands in the top three most popular Thanksgiving sides, preferred by 14% of respondents in the YouGov poll.

Green bean casserole is most popular in the Midwest, where 21% named it as their favorite Thanksgiving side dish. It was invented by the Campbell Soup Company in 1955 and its easy preparation from pantry ingredients made it popular in Midwestern home kitchens.

Beyond the Midwest, green bean casserole enjoys a high favorability and strong nostalgic ties in many households and regions.

Why Green Bean Casserole Resonates

Green bean casserole is firmly planted in Thanksgiving tradition for several reasons:

  • Quick and easy to prepare – The canned soup and frozen green bean ingredients simplify preparation.
  • Kid-friendly appeal – Kids love the crunchy fried onion topping.
  • Classic 1950s recipe – It represents comforting nostalgia and tradition for older generations.
  • Brings color vibrancy – The green beans add a fresh pop of color to the plate, contrasting the brown and beige hues of other dishes.
  • Balances flavors – The mild, lightly creamy green beans balance the savory and sweet flavors of the meal.

For many Midwesterners, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the trademark crunchy-creamy combo bite of green bean casserole. Even outside the Midwest, it retains strong nostalgic ties for Americans of all ages.

Other Favorites

Beyond the big three sides, there are a few other contenders that make a frequent appearance on Thanksgiving tables:

  • Rolls – Soft, fluffy dinner rolls are perfect for soaking up gravy and fill up bellies. 9% of respondents chose rolls as their preferred side dish.
  • Corn – Whether creamed, sautéed, or on the cob, corn offers a classic and palate-pleasing side. It was the favorite side for 9% of those surveyed.
  • Sweet potatoes/yams – Typically baked with a brown sugar topping, this sweet dish balances the other savory items. They were the favorite Thanksgiving side for 8% of respondents.
  • Cranberry sauce – The bright tart-sweet flavor of cranberry sauce provides the perfect counterpoint to turkey. Five percent named it their favorite side item.

Though these sides did not top the list, they each contribute their own unique flavors, colors, and textures to the Thanksgiving spread.

Regional Differences

While national patterns emerge in the popularity of certain side dishes, Thanksgiving meals also reflect regional cuisine influences. Here are some notable regional preferences for side items:

Region Most Popular Side Dish
Northeast Stuffing/dressing
South Mashed potatoes
Midwest Green bean casserole
West Mashed potatoes

Certain states have strong preferences, like oyster stuffing in coastal southern states or macaroni and cheese in Virginia. Regional specialties add uniqueness and diversity to Thanksgiving feasts.

New Twists on Tradition

While Americans largely prefer sticking with tried-and-true classic Thanksgiving sides, new twists on tradition are creeping onto more tables:

  • Loaded mashed potatoes with bacon, cheddar, and scallions
  • Wild rice or quinoa stuffing for gluten-free guests
  • Honey balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts as a fresh veggie option
  • Sweet potato casserole with maple pecan topping
  • Southwestern corn souffle baked with peppers and cilantro

These modern additions allow hosts to put their own creative spins on the traditional Thanksgiving spread. But the classics like mashed potatoes and stuffing are still the expected “must haves” that anchor the meal.


When all is said and eaten, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing and green bean casserole emerge as the three most popular Thanksgiving side dishes on a national scale. However, every family has their own favorites and traditions based on regional influences and unique recipes passed down through generations. Though new trendy sides may come and go, these classic triumphs have firmly cemented their place at Thanksgiving dinner tables across America.